For this reason Brand South Africa set out to, in a more systematic manner, research (in Ghana, Kenya & Nigeria) the profile of the nation brand, how South Africa and South Africans are perceived on the continent, and additionally to identify opportunities and challenges South Africans, South African brands, and generally speaking the nation brand faces when investing in, trading with, interfacing or interacting with peer African markets.
From the fieldwork and related research it has become apparent that if South Africa and South Africans are known for a few key attributes or features, then in Nigeria one finds significant interest in South African corporate brands’ managerial and corporate governance capability. In Kenya fieldwork found the while there may be some criticisms of the South African personality, products and services from South African suppliers, retailers or service providers are often cited as reputable, reliable, and in some cases competitively priced.
In some markets, such as Nigeria, several interviewees indicated that Shoprite’s entry has to some extent changed the shopping culture. This implies that South African brands have not only internationalised, but have in the intervening twenty years of democracy become well known, and respected for rendering quality services & products.
In Ghana, for example, an interviewee (a South African with more than fifteen years of experience with doing business in West Africa – particularly in Nigeria and Ghana) indicated that corporates from South Africa in some instances think that they can proverbially ‘go it alone’ through the market entry process.
The lesson to draw from this is that while South African corporates have exploded across the continent post-1994, a lot of work remains to be done to understand the unique hard and soft factors that may impact on the internationalisation- and market entry strategies of South African corporates across the continent.
Market entry strategy is, however, not a once off activity. As a South African interviewee based in Kenya indicated environments, market dynamics, business partners, and the regulatory environments change over time. Using the analogy of a river the interviewee indicated that with accurate and trustworthy advice one can cross a river, but when you return to that river six months later, conditions may have changed.
This means that attention has to be paid, on a constant basis, to the changing conditions in a market that may affect perceptions (soft issues), as well as sector-specific or the related ‘doing business’ environment (hard issues).
Finally, the conclusion is that South Africans may have to learn how to listen more carefully to the advice of local partners, advisors, or friends. By learning to listen, we will be better equipped to listen in order to learn more about the soft factors that can sometimes come and bedevil the best laid corporate internationalisation & market entry strategy.